Lilium candidum

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Lilium candidum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Genus: Lilium
Species: L. candidum
Binomial name
Lilium candidum
  • Lilium peregrinum Mill.
  • Lilium album Houtt.
  • plus numerous names at the levels of varieties and subspecies
Lilium candidum - MHNT
Lilium candidum
Lilium candidum flower

Lilium candidum (popularly known as the Madonna lily) is a plant in the true lily family. It is native to Greece, the western Balkans and the Middle East, and naturalized in other parts of Europe (France, Italy, Ukraine, etc.) as well as in North Africa, the Canary Islands, Mexico, and other places.[1][2] It forms bulbs at ground level, and unlike other lilies, has a basal rosette of leaves through the winter, which die back in summer. A leafy flower stem, typically up to 1.2 metres (3 ft 11 in) high, sometimes up to 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) high, emerges in late spring and bears sweetly and headily fragrant flowers in summer. Flowers are white, flushed yellow at the base.[3][4][5][6][7]

It has long been cultivated, but is susceptible to virus diseases of lilies, and to Botrytis fungus. One possible way to avoid problems with viruses is to grow plants raised from seed.


Flowers of Lilium candidum
Flowers of Lilium candidum
Flowers of Lilium candidum

Madonna Lilies in art and culture[edit]

The Madonna lily is often described as being the basis of the fleur de lis,[citation needed] though the shape of this stylised flower more strongly resembles that of a flag iris.

Madonna lilies are depicted in a fresco at the Minoan palace of Knossos.

The Madonna Lily symbolizes purity for Roman Catholics. Medieval depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary often show her holding these flowers.

There are translations of the Bible that identify the Hebrew word Shoshannah as 'lily' in Song of Songs ("As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters." Song of Songs 2:2 (KJV)), not as a rose as is customary to translate. For example, Abraham ibn Ezra describes it as a white flower, which has a good fragrance, and has a six-petal flower and six stamens. But its identity is uncertain, because it does not fit with the description as "the lily of the valleys", because mostly it grows in the mountains. [clarification needed]

The Bible describes King Solomon's Temple as having designs of Madonna lilies on the columns[8] and on the brazen Sea (Laver). [9]

The White Lily was also an indicator of slaves in the early 1850s before the Civil War. One slaver in particular would brand a lily on his slaves so that even if one were to escape they would always be marked and therefore unable to truly escape the chains they were in.[citation needed]

In 1883 the White Lily was used as an indication of racist groups in the deep south, mainly Georgia. This emblem was put over houses and establishments for townsfolk to know what places they could go to and plot the next move against the newly freed black slaves. The Stem Of The White Lily (what the group called itself) organized over 200 lynchings before being put down in a revolt against the Georgia government which was corrupt and full of White Lily sympathizers. This marked an interesting time in the United States after the Civil War. The White Lily was yet another group taking after the steps of the Ku Klux Klan, which had stumbled against abolition years earlier and subsequently started the process in which The White Lily would follow.[citation needed]

Today, while beautiful, the White Lily is still considered a racist emblem in southern states like Georgia, Alabama, and North and South Carolina.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana, Giglio bianco di S. Antonio, Madonna lily, Lilium candidum L.
  3. ^ Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1980). Flora Europaea 5: 1-452. Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ Davis, P.H. (ed.) (1984). Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands 8: 1-632. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
  5. ^ Danin, A. (2004). Distribution Atlas of Plants in the Flora Palaestina area: 1-517. The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem.
  6. ^ Ikinci, N., Oberprieler, C. & Güner, A. (2006). On the origin of European lilies: phylogenetic analysis of Lilium section Liriotypus (Liliaceae) using sequences of the nuclear ribosomal transcribed spacers. Willdenowia 36: 647-565.
  7. ^ Dimpoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013). Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist: 1-372. Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens.
  8. ^ 1 Kings 7:19
  9. ^ 1 Kings 7:26
  • The European Garden Flora (1986)
  • Garden Bulbs for the South (1994)

External links[edit]